How Bleach Kills Germs

14 Nov

clorox1

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bleach has been killing germs for more than 200 years but U.S. scientists have just figured out how the cleaner does its dirty work.

It seems that hypochlorous acid, the active ingredient in bleach, attacks proteins in bacteria, causing them to clump up much like an egg that has been boiled, a team at the University of Michigan reported in the journal Cell on Thursday.

The discovery, which may better explain how humans fight off infections, came quite by accident.

“As so often happens in science, we did not set out to address this question,” Ursula Jakob, who led the team, said in a statement.

The researchers had been studying a bacterial protein called heat shock protein 33, which is a kind of molecular chaperon that becomes active when cells are in distress, for example from the high temperature of a fever.

In this case, the source of the distress was hypochlorous acid or hypochlorite.

Jakob’s team figured out that bleach and high temperatures have very similar effects on proteins.

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